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Monthly Archives: October 2015


Image by Kent Buckley

October 26, 2015


About 50 people—most from the South Shore and Cape Cod—held a protest rally last Thursday at the Grand Staircase in the Massachusetts State House to demand the immediate closure of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station on a long list of public safety grounds. This in the wake of the facility’s owner, Entergy Corp., announcing it will shutter the plant by 2019 because it’s become too expensive to run.

The demonstrators, led by the several grassroots groups that comprise the Pilgrim Coalition, say that’s an improvement from the 2012 decision, by the industry-friendly Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to allow the plant to remain open until 2032. But every minute that Pilgrim remains open increases the possibility that some calamity could render large swaths of the Bay State radioactive for thousands of years.

It was the kind of event that left me thinking, “We need 50,000 people here, and another 50,000 people surrounding Pilgrim until Entergy shuts it down.” So great is the existential crisis of such a dangerous and aging nuclear reactor being allowed to continue operating far closer to Boston than the now-infamous Fukushima Daiichi nukes are to Tokyo.

Photo by Jason Pramas

Photo by Jason Pramas

Seriously, the Fukushima plant is 141 miles from Tokyo. Pilgrim is only 38 miles from the State House—well within the 50-plus mile distance of the furthest communities that ended up being contaminated by the radioactive plume from Fukushima.

In early 2014, Gov. Deval Patrick confirmed what area activists had been saying for years: there is no viable evacuation plan in the event of a disaster at Pilgrim. Many people living in areas affected by releases of radiation would essentially be told to “shelter in place” by Entergy and the Mass. Emergency Management Association. At the time, Patrick asked the NRC to step in and to close the plant if it failed to comply with regulations. Later that year, the NRC kicked the responsibility for developing real plans back to Patrick. In short: there is still no evacuation plan for communities near the plant, let alone for Boston.

As the protesters pointed out last week, following the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima, the NRC told Americans who were living and working within 50 miles of the plant to evacuate. Given that there are no evacuation plans for the less densely populated communities near Pilgrim, what exactly would we do in Boston if Pilgrim were to suffer a similar disaster? No responsible party has an answer to that very obvious question.

To make matters worse, the Pilgrim nuke is a General Electric Mark I type. Exactly the same type as five of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi—including all four of the reactors that suffered catastrophic failures in 2011. Like Fukushima, Pilgrim is situated right on the ocean, and is therefore susceptible to damage from the kinds of super-hurricanes and massive winter Nor’easters that are expected to hit the Massachusetts coast with increasing frequency in the coming decades due to global warming—much like how Fukushima was hit by a tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake.

Pilgrim has already had numerous safety violations over the years—some of which, as with Fukushima, were not properly reported until recently. Nevertheless, the NRC has repeatedly downgraded the safety rating of the plant due to such problems, making it one of the lowest rated plants in the country.

Given these facts, the only sensible thing to do is to shut the plant down immediately. So I join the protestors in calling for Gov. Charlie Baker and the legislature to take all appropriate actions necessary to make that happen now, and for Entergy to think about more than just its bottom line. Rally speakers Sen. Dan Wolf and Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives can be looked to for legislative leadership in this fight, though it won’t be their last. Seabrook is only 39 miles from the State House and has similar problems, but that’s a column for another day.

Readers interested in getting involved in this critical campaign can check out the Pilgrim Coalition website.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


Image by Kent Buckley

October 20, 2015


One of the marks of what scholars call hegemonic discourse is the assumption that a society’s ruling ideology is considered so “normal” that it does not even need to be named, let alone explained. So it is with the Boston Globe and capitalism.

Most of the Globe’s editorial board, columnists, and reporters,  like virtually the entire mainstream American press corps,  start from the position that capitalism is the best of all possible political economic systems. And, while it may need periodic reform on behalf of “the neediest” in our society (as they like to put it), fundamentally “there is no alternative”—as Margaret Thatcher famously quipped—to capitalism. Understood as free markets, free trade, and corporate globalization. Yet only a handful of Globe staff, like conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby, openly state that position with any regularity.

How then are the Globe’s mainstream capitalist journalists to deal with the increasingly successful Presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist running as a Democrat?

If recent articles referencing Sanders are any measure, the Globe is choosing to deal with him by setting up straw men about his stated ideology and then knocking them down.

Take Joan Vennochi’s latest column, “When did Democrats become the party of free stuff?” In it she states that “progressive ideology” (whatever that is) “is increasingly about asking government to provide more for its citizens—and more for noncitizens, too.” She juxtaposes that already problematic typification to JFK’s famous call to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for you country.” She cites that call as being “strongly rooted in the notion of self-reliance,” and in the belief that “government is not there to serve us. We are there to serve it.”

No Bernie Sanders Scandinavia is not a socialist utopia The Boston Globe

She then moves on to paint Sanders and his ideas as essentially a threat to said Kennedy values. The crux of her argument hinges on the definition of socialism that she chooses to use. Which, to get to the point, is incorrect. In this case, Vennochi cites a recent Washington Post blog post that describes socialists “as people who believe ‘that the government should provide a wide range of basic services to its citizens free of charge or at a discount, typically including university education and health care, as well as child care, housing, telecommunications, energy, and more.’ They also believe these services ‘should be available to everyone, not just the neediest.’”

The problem with that definition of socialists and socialism is that it describes a welfare state, not socialism. Welfare states are possible under pretty much any type of modern government. One of the earliest welfare states began under a German emperor in the late 1800s. There have been welfare states in fascist nations, like Italy under Mussolini, in capitalist dictatorships like Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, and here in the United States to a degree between the 1930s and the present. And yes, also in social democratic (a.k.a. democratic socialist) countries like Sweden—particularly from the 1960s to the 1980s.

So the definition of socialism is not the fact that it allows for a strong welfare state.

Socialism encompasses a broad sphere of ideas, but most socialists share in the belief that human beings should have equal rights (not one set of rules for privileged groups, and another for everyone else), that there should be democratic control of both political and economic institutions worldwide, and that a socialist society must strive to eliminate private control over the means of production. So that the working people of the world—the “99 percent”—can finally control our own destiny.

It’s commonly thought that socialism has to spring from national governments, but elements of socialism can also be introduced by regional and local governments, and critically by trade unions, nonprofit organizations, and co-operatives. Many anarchists are in fact libertarian socialists who believe that networks of very democratic local governments and smaller scale non-governmental organizations should run society— not nation-states, multinational corporations, and huge political parties of the traditional left, right, or center.

There can still be capitalism in socialist societies, but it is typically limited—and kept away from the commanding heights of core economic sectors like healthcare, housing, education, and energy. Also, politics is kept more free from the influence of concentrations of individual and corporate wealth in such societies, helping to ensure that the rich don’t use their funds to seize control over government as completely as they are now doing in the US.

Other articles referring to socialism in the Globe recently have the same flaw as Vennochi’s piece. To the extent they address socialism directly at all, they mischaracterize it. Then dismantle their mischaracterization.

I’ve been watching capitalist reporters take that kind of “ranting at an empty chair’ approach for my entire adult life when it comes to any ideology left of the Democratic Party, and have always thought it to be a cheap tactic and intellectually dishonest. If the Globe was a real forum of ideas, they would at least invite prominent socialist thinkers—of whom there are a number in Boston—to openly discuss and debate what socialism, democratic or otherwise, might mean for America on an ongoing basis.

A good step in that direction would be running the text of the speech that Sanders is planning on the meaning of democratic socialism in its entirety. A better one would be allowing local thinkers across the political spectrum—the full political spectrum, including intellectuals on the anti-capitalist left—to debate the merits of Sanders’ speech in the Globe’s pages. There are several people I could recommend. But why not invite the most famous left thinker on the planet, who lives here in the Boston area, and who theGlobe has resolutely snubbed for the last 50 years: Noam Chomsky.

Here’s his email: He answers all communications faithfully. Heck, if the Globe wants, I’ll invite him for them. Globe editors are welcome to flag me at Anytime. My line, as ever, is open.

Apparent Horizon is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



October 14, 2015


Do you have a bad boss?

I don’t just mean a boss that you don’t want to hang out with after work. I mean a boss that’s ripping you off or otherwise harming you systematically over time. And doing the same to your co-workers.

Think about it. Have you worked overtime repeatedly, but not been paid for it? Are you not allowed to take legal holidays and sick days off? Are you not given time off at all?

Is your boss violating health and safety regulations, refusing to provide necessary safety equipment, and forcing you and your co-workers to risk life and limb on the job?

Does your boss repeatedly sexually harass you and your co-workers? Or worse?

If you’re a tipped employee, does your boss steal your tips?

If you’re a temp, part-timer, contractor, independent contractor, day laborer or any other type of contingent worker, should you be? Like is your job really the kind of job that needs to be short-term or “flexible” in some way, or is your boss just misclassifying you to avoid having to give you a decent job?

Does your boss refuse to give you and your co-workers raises, no matter how long you’ve worked at your job?

Did your boss ever threaten to fire you and your co-workers if you even talk about forming a union at your workplace?

Has your boss engaged in outright wage theft? Just taken cash money that’s owed to you in one way or another? Like, as was the case with a restaurant that I heard about last week, not paying employees wages at all — only tips, skimming those too, and threatening to rat out the largely undocumented immigrant waitstaff to ICE if they say boo to anyone who might help them?

If this kind of nonsense or anything like it is happening to you and your co-workers on the job, then the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is here to help.

We’re not a replacement for starting a union or talking to the Mass Attorney General’s office or the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. But if you really feel you and your co-workers have a legitimate actionable grievance, we — as journalists working in the public interest — can do that thing that most bosses hate the most: we can shine light on your bad situation.

In doing so, we can help government, labor, and nonprofit advocates to find you and fight with you for a better deal on the job. And we can get you support from the general public when it counts.

So here’s how this will work: You flag us at #BINJbadboss on Twitter or by email at Let us know what’s up. You can be as public or anonymous as you like when you contact us. If we see evidence of systematic abuse at your workplace, we’ll get on the case. We’ll publish columns or news articles that will shed some light on your bad boss.

Sound good? Good. My colleagues and I look forward to sharing your stories.


Apparent Horizon is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.




Image by Kent Buckley

October 5, 2015


This week’s column is a codicil to last week’s column on the need for local policy wonks and politicians to stop proposing major public infrastructure projects in parts of Boston that are going to flood during the increasingly frequent global warming-driven super storms slated to hit us in the coming decades. Which, together with rising oceans, stand a good chance of wiping our city off the map if we don’t begin a “strategic retreat” now.

Despite this very real and looming crisis, hapless Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung devoted her latest missive to the idea of building dorms for UMass Boston. The wildly unpopular Boston 2024 Olympics she flacked for revived a wildly unpopular plan to build dorms at the campus (in the form of an Olympic Village for athletes), and now Leung is trying to help manufacture a groundswell of support behind the original plan for 2,000 dorm beds — complete with positive quotes from some select bigs who are already on the way to making it a reality.

I’ve long been opposed to dorms at UMB. The school was founded with an “urban mission,” that dictates that its primary purpose is to educate Boston residents. Most residents being working and lower middle class people of color who often can’t even afford one of our increasingly expensive community colleges, let alone one of our increasingly expensive state universities. Not without crushing and criminal lifelong student loan debt.


UMass Boston was specifically created as a commuter school with a mandate to educate and uplift the people of the city. And a commuter school it should stay. Having sat on a campus advisory board for future infrastructure development as a leader of the UMB graduate student union in 2006–2007, I believe that the biggest reason for wanting to build dorms (beyond sadly typical sweetheart deals with private developers) was — and remains — to attract young white upper-middle class suburban students whose families can afford to pay an outrageous sticker price for what should be a free (or at least cheap) school. Thus allowing the UMass Board of Trustees, the Mass. Board of Higher Education, and the state legislature to absolve themselves for their rank irresponsibility in refusing to fight for proper funding for the state public higher education system. All of which primarily benefits big “private” universities like Harvard, MIT, BU, and Northeastern that don’t want public competition for the huge amounts of federal and state money they suck up every year.

That said, there’s another reason why it’s a bad idea to build dorms — or indeed any new construction at the current UMass Boston campus: Because the campus is right on Boston Harbor, and therefore just as much at risk for future super storm destruction driven by global warming as proposed coastal projects like the North-South Rail Link that I criticized last week.

It’s time for UMass Boston and other public institutions to think seriously about the flooded future that climate scientists are predicting for the Boston coastline, and start moving their operations inland to higher ground. A sensible step for UMass and state higher ed leaders would be to start buying up property on hills near the present site of UMB — with an eye toward building a new campus. But having attempted to debate with some of them in the past on this very issue, I’m not holding my breath for any of them to do the right thing until it’s too late.

In the meantime, students, faculty, and staff in the UMass system might also change the conversation by pressuring those leaders to do the right thing. And if anyone gets some campus action going on this critical political front, I’m happy to help publicize the effort. I can be reached, as ever, at

Apparent Horizon is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



Image via ELM Action Fund

October 2, 2015


When I heard that two former Massachusetts governors — Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld — are both pushing for a North-South Rail Link between North Station and South Station in downtown Boston, my first reaction was, “I guess they didn’t get my memo.”

The “memo” in question was my March 7, 2014 Open Media Boston editorial, in which I criticized a proposed “remediation strategy” by various local think tanks and officials in response to the negative effects of global warming over the next few decades. Said strategy largely involves ignoring the magnitude of the existential crisis facing Boston (and the planet), and sort of squirreling around its edges rather than tackling it head on while there’s still time to do so.

One of my key points was that even level-headed climate scientists are predicting a significant amount of sea level rise by 2100. Couple that with Boston getting slammed by ever more frequent “super storms,” and the net result of these linked disasters makes it a virtual certainty that Boston’s floodplain — which includes much of our present downtown area — will be reclaimed occasionally, and eventually permanently, by the Atlantic Ocean.

Funny thing about tunnels like the proposed North-South Rail Link, and about our famously sketchy Big Dig tunnels … they don’t work if they’re flooded. Much like New York’s subway system didn’t work after Hurricane Sandy.

So proposing any major infrastructure projects — let alone a rail tunnel — on a known floodplain in the age of global warming is a laughably bad idea. Especially when Boston has no real plan to slow the inevitable flooding of low-lying areas. And stopping the flooding is probably beyond our current technology, or any technology we are likely to develop in the coming decades.

But slowing the effects of rising oceans long enough to move key Boston infrastructure to higher ground by pursuing a “strategic retreat” strategy is possible (using tactics like our own version of Holland’s famous dike system). Unless global warming’s other negative impacts render our region uninhabitable within the lifetime of the current generation of children. In which case all bets will be off for our fair city anyway.

Assuming we don’t end up facing one of the absolute worst case scenarios, the best course of action that Boston regional planners and politicians can take going forward is to start strategic retreat projects immediately, avoid building anything significant near the harbor, and gradually develop the hills around the city as the new Boston. Starting with transportation hubs on that higher ground. That’s where the big money needs to go. To the projects that will help our city survive. Not to the rail link that should have been built decades ago.

Check out the full version of this column on Medium at:

Apparent Horizon is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director and a professor of critical media, visual art and political economy at the Global Center for Advanced Studies.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.